Fans raise fuss over USC band's decision not to play at LSU

COLUMBIA -- When the University of South Carolina's players gather to sing the alma mater after Saturday's game at No. 2 Louisiana State University, they will have to do so a cappella.

Citing financial constraints, USC officials decided not to take the marching band to Baton Rouge, La., for the clash of top-15 teams at Tiger Stadium.

The decision has caused a mild uproar among some Gamecocks fans, who e-mailed university leaders and raised the issue on USC coach Steve Spurrier's radio call-in show last week.

"We really appreciate the fact that the fans want us to be there," band director George Brozak said Monday. "The kids are just champing at the bit to go. But we can't make it work. We can't go to all the schools, and that kind of distance, with what we're working with."

Brozak said it would have cost at least $70,000 to bus the entire 295-member band, known as the Mighty Sound of the Southeast, to Louisiana and pay for two nights of lodging and meals.

USC could have taken a pep band on the 11- to 14-hour trip for about $20,000. While Brozak said he weighed such factors as the class time that band members would miss (one day), the bottom line was money.

"It's not that we don't care or don't want to be there. We just couldn't make it work."

USC's athletics department will give the band $186,000 this year for operating expenses, the bulk of which is for travel. Besides missing the trip to LSU's Death Valley, the band also will miss the Gamecocks' Nov. 3 game at Arkansas.

The band did not make road trips to Arkansas in 2005 or Mississippi State last year.

"We give the band the dollars, and then they make the decision on what they do," USC athletics director Eric Hyman said. "They take class time, attendance, all those kind of factors, into it. They do what's right."

On this year's season-ticket applications, officials included an option for fans to donate to the band. That effort brought in an additional $27,000, which will help fund stipends for band members, according to School of Music dean Tayloe Harding.

USC board of trustees chairman Herbert Adams, who chipped in $10 for the band, said that if every season-ticket holder had done likewise, it would have paid for an extra trip for the band.

"People talk, but you've got to walk the talk with your pocketbooks," Adams said.

Much of the criticism has been directed at Hyman, who has successfully brought USC's athletics budget back into the black after inheriting a department with a $2 million deficit. In the spring of 2006 during Hyman's first year at USC, the Gamecocks sent two cheerleaders and a pep band to New York for the men's basketball team's NIT championship run.

But Harding said the problem is not Hyman but a band budget that has not increased in five years.

"Sometimes, there's just not enough money, and no one's to blame, and I'm afraid this is one of those times," Harding said.

Some band members are planning to drive to Baton Rouge -- without instruments -- or to get together in Columbia to watch the CBS broadcast.

"I can understand how it would be expensive for the school, but it would have been a lot of fun," said horn player Sarah Kervin, a sophomore from Townville.